Sports


Position players focus of Mariners

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 10, 2009, 12:01 A.M.

Seattle drafts OF, 3 IFs and catcher in early rounds

SEATTLE – Dustin Ackley said he patterns himself after Pete Rose – the player, not the man.

“The hustle part,” said Ackley, whom the Seattle Mariners selected Tuesday with the second overall pick in baseball’s amateur draft.

“Watching how he hustled and played the game, I’ve tried to take from that,” said Ackley, whose sweet left-handed swing helped lead North Carolina to the College World Series. “He was a switch hitter who played the game hard.”

In what the Mariners are calling the most important draft in franchise history, a definite pattern emerged in the first three rounds Tuesday – they took all position players.

Besides Ackley, the Mariners selected high school shortstop Nick Franklin with their other first-round pick (27th overall), high school catcher Steven Baron in the supplemental round (33rd), power-hitting first baseman Rich Poythress of the University of Georgia in the second round (51st) and infielder Kyle Seager, a teammate of Ackley, in the third round (82nd).

Ackley’s bat enticed the Mariners, along with athleticism that makes them believe he’ll be a quality outfielder.

He batted .412, hit 22 home runs and drove in 70 runs this year for the Tar Heels. Those are attractive numbers for a hitting-deficient club like the Mariners, who believe Ackley could be on a fast track to the major leagues.

“We think he has the potential to be a middle-of-the-lineup hitter,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “We think he will hit for average. We’ll see how he moves along, but we think he’s a player who will move pretty quick. He’s got a nice set of skills – he can run, he can hit for power.”

How much power is something even Ackley doesn’t know.

He credited his surge in home runs this year – he hit seven in 2008 and 10 in 2007 – with a new stadium in Chapel Hill that’s a left-hander’s delight.

The right-center field power alley is only 355 feet from home plate, compared with 387 at Safeco Field. There’s also the aluminum bat factor to consider, although Ackley has used a wood bat in the summer Cape Cod League.

“We’re in a new stadium this year and it’s a smaller stadium,” Ackley said. “I’m not a guy who’s going to put up enormous power numbers. I’ll hit balls that will get out on shorter fields.”

Still, Ackley is considered the best hitter and second-best player overall in the draft behind pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who the Washington Nationals selected with the first pick. Ackley, a 6-foot-1 inch, 184-pound junior at Carolina, has a .776 slugging percentage and a .513 on-base percentage in 250 at-bats this season. He has 13 steals.

The Mariners’ next task with Ackley is to get him signed, a process that history says may take a while. His agent is Scott Boras, who represented the Mariners’ first-round pick last year, pitcher Josh Fields. It wasn’t until late February this year before Fields signed.

Being a college junior, Ackley must sign by Aug. 17 or he will return to the draft pool.

Ackley had Tommy John surgery last summer after dealing with a bad elbow since high school. He played most of his games at first base this year although Mariners scouts were able to see him play center, where they believe he’ll play as a pro.

“If I had to play one of (the outfield positions), I’d play center field,” he said. “But wherever they want to play me, that’s where I’ll play. My arm now is the best it’s ever been and I feel like I could play every day (in the outfield) if I needed to.”

Franklin’s athleticism enticed the Mariners with the 27th overall pick.

He’s a 6-1, 170-pound switch hitter who was rated the 20th-best position player available. He has average range at shortstop and has a swing that could develop some power.

“He’s a baseball rat,” said Mariners scouting director Tom McNamara. “He’s a confident shortstop with a lot of ability.”



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